RMRS Air, Water, & Aquatic Environments Science Program USFS RMRS Boise Lab River Bathymetry Toolkit (RBT)

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 River Bathymetry Toolkit (RBT)
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Rocky Mountain Research Station Home > Science Program Areas > Air, Water and Aquatics > Research Subjects > Boise Lab River Bathymetry Toolkit (RBT)


River Bathymetry Toolkit (RBT)


River Bathymetry LiDAR ArcGIS Toolkit (RBT)


River Bathymetry Toolkit (RBT) Introduction


Traditional techniques for describing and understanding aquatic physical habitat in streams have focused on manual measurements of channel topography. Typically this involves field mapping techniques that can be time-consuming, costly, labor- intensive and limited to infrequent local reach-scale surveys done during low flow conditions. It can be logistically prohibitive to conduct the field surveys at spatial and temporal scales appropriate for some aquatic species. For example, an optimal sampling scheme may be to take repeated measurements at a high frequency along the channel but costs dictate seasonal data collection at select or widely separated sites.

New remote sensing techniques, such as airborne water-penetrating Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and boat-mounted acoustic sensors can produce highly accurate Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) with continuous coverage of long segments of channels and stream networks. Thus, we now have the ability to more nearly inventory, rather than locally sample, the same aquatic habitats. However, we lack automated techniques to analyze these new more-synoptic digital data. The US Forest Service and ESSA Technologies have developed a suite of GIS tools, the River Bathymetry Toolkit (RBT), for processing high resolution DEMs of channels. Our goal is to characterize in-stream and floodplain geomorphology to support aquatic habitat analyses and numerical models of flow and sediment transport. The (RBT) is available for free and is under active development. Tools exist for cutting cross sections and longitudinal profiles into high resolution DEMs to extract hydrologic parameters such as wetted area, bankfull width, hydraulic radius, gradient and sinuosity. It is possible to save the cross section properties as an ESRI Shapefile and then add them to a map. Using an automated detrending algorithm, users are able to remove the overall valley slope. Tools are being created that use the detrended raster to investigate flooding outside a main channel at any prescribed discharge or flow stage. These methods will allow a user to describe the “off-channel” habitat under different flow conditions.



McKean, J., Nagel, D., Tonina, D., Bailey, P., Wright, C.W., Bohn, C., Nayegandhi, A., 2009. Remote sensing of channels and riparian zones with a narrow-beam aquatic-terrestrial lidar. Remote Sensing 1 (4) 1065-1096.


McKean, Jim; Isaak, Dan; Wright, Wayne  2009.  Improving stream studies with a small-footprint green lidar.   Eos. 90(39): 341-342.


McKean, J., Isaak, D., Wright, C.W., 2009. Stream and riparian habitat analysis and monitoring with a high-resolution terrestrial-aquatic lidar. in Bayer, J.M., and Schei, J.L., eds., PNAMP Special Publication: Remote Sensing Applications for Aquatic Resource Monitoring, Pacific Northwest Aquatic Monitoring Partnership, Cook, Washington, Chap. 2, p. 7-16.


McKean, J.A., D.J. Isaak, and C.W. Wright.  2008.  Geomorphic controls on salmon nesting patterns described by a new, narrow-beam terrestrial-aquatic lidar.  Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 6(3),125-130.


River Bathymetry Toolkit - One Page Science Briefing


Remote Sensing of Stream Channels - One Page Science Briefing


USGS EAARL - Bathymetric Lidar Sensor

River Bathymetry Toolkit (RBT) - USGS EAARL LiDAR Sensor







Download RBT




Disclaimer and Citation


River Bathymetry Toolkit (RBT) Help  (LiDAR toolkit)


RBT Help


River Bathymetry Toolkit (RBT) Presentations


High Resolution Bathymetry of Rivers

Data acquisition with an airborne narrow-beam green lidar

Data interpretation including: basic mapping, frequent domain analyses, hydraulic geometry measurements with a custom-built ArcGIS toolkit




River Bathymetry Toolkit (RBT) Sample LiDAR Data


Sample Data zip file (1019 KB)


Sample Data documentation and metadata



River Bathymetry Toolkit (RBT) Training Workbook Cover Page


Training Workbook


LiDAR Working Data zip file (126,686 KB)


RBT Reviews

River Bathymetry Toolkit (RBT) Independent Reviews


Spatial Scrawl Geospatial Tools Blog


Feedback and Detrending for Multiple Channels (image 1 | image 2 | image 3)


Demonstration Videos

River Bathymetry Toolkit (RBT) Demonstration Videos


River Bathymetry Toolkit (RBT) bankfull tool (YouTube)





RMRS Boise Aquatic Sciences Lab logo

The development of the RBT is funded by a joint venture between the U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Boise, Idaho, and ESSA Technologies Ltd. We also gratefully acknowledge the extensive financial support of the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) Project 2003-017-00, the Integrated Status & Effectiveness Monitoring Project (ISEMP).


The current development team consists of Philip Bailey, Carolyn Bohn, Katy Bryan, Jim McKean, David Nagel and Frank Poulsen.




Rocky Mountain Research Station - Air, Water and Aquatic Environments Sciences Program
Last Modified:  Tuesday, 18 March 2014 at 16:17:24 CDT

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